Speaking before a clearly surprised Rhode Island audience, the 33-year-old WWE Universal Champion whose real name is Leati Joseph Anoa’i, said his 11-year battle with leukemia will prevent him from competing in the sport until further notice.
He said it also means he would have to give up his belt.
‘My real name is Joe. And I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years. And unfortunately, it’s back.
‘And because the leukemia is back, I cannot fulfill that role. I can’t be that fighting champion, and I’m going to have to relinquish the WWE Universal Championship.’
Roman Reigns had to relinquish his Championship Belt, which he won in January 2016
After his emotional announcement, Reigns went up to the middle of the ring and left his Universal Title belt at the center.
Reigns was first diagnosed with the cancer of blood-forming tissues at the age of 22. He had a successful football career at Georgia Tech prior to it.
After his speech, he was met by fellow wrestlers Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, the latter of whom was clearly struck by Reigns’s speech.
‘Reigns is taking his battle with leukemia public in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research in order to advance cures for the disease,’ WWE said in a statement.
Reigns’s announcement comes at a dark time for the wrestling world, with many famous wrestlers dying in 2018.
Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart passed away on August 13, 2018 at age 63. Virgil Flynn died on July 18 from a stroke at age 33. El Picudo died on August 3 due to complications from diabetes.
Following Reigns’s announcement, many past and present WWE stars took to Twitter to support him. Fellow Raw star and Hollywood actor John Cena wrote: ‘Courage – strength in the face of pain or grief. You have given us your everything including a courageously vulnerable moment. We, your WWE family, give you all of our love and support. #ThankYouRoman #NeverGiveUp’
Syrian-Canadian wrestler Sami Zayn tweeted: ‘I’m overseas and I just heard the terrible news about @WWERomanReigns and his battle with Leukemia. Totally shocked. Uce, you are a tough b*****d and a true fighter, and you will beat this. Lots of love.’
Roman Reigns cancer social media reaction
Here are more supportive social media reactions to Roman Reigns’s leukemia announcement.